Discover Narbonne & Beziers

 

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The central Languedoc is a holidaymaker’s paradise. The glorious sandy beaches of this part of the Languedoc seem to go on forever, sometimes with not another single person in sight. At the resorts, however, there is all the fun of the fair. The famous beaches around Agde, Valras and Serignan are home to tourist markets, shops, terraces, bars and restaurants, making this the perfect holiday destination for young and old.

For those looking for a bit more than just sun, sea and beaches, this region is also  home to some of South France’s most ancient cities. Both Béziers and Narbonne are thousands of years old and of major importance within the region. Dating back to Roman times when they were two principal towns along the Via Domitia, the ancient Roman road connecting Rome to its colonies in nowadays Spain. Later on they were important transport hubs along the famous Canal du Midi which connected the Mediterranean with the Atlantic. And even more recently there was wine, plenty of it. Languedoc is home to superb vineyards so it is not a surprise that everywhere you look the countryside is patched together with rows and rows of vines. Wine-making here runs deep in the blood. If the man you talk to in the street is not himself a vigneron, then the chances are that his father, his grandfather, his cousin or his friend are or were wine-growers in their time.

  

Things to See and Do in Narbonne and Beziers

Beaches and Lakes

  • At Cap d'Agde you'll find 9 beaches, all of which are as breathtaking as each other, and each with its own ambience, for families, sports, populous, secluded, naturist, you name it! The beach area offers almost unlimited scope for all kinds of water and sand sports. There are cafés and restaurants to suit every taste and budget to be found close to the beach or in the town of Agde. The nightlife here is incredible thanks to its many bars all offering something a little bit different and multiple nightclubs, including one of the world-famous Amnesia clubs (also found in Ibiza, Miami and Paris).
  • Portiragnes Plage holds a Pavillon Bleu award for its cleanliness and water quality. The beautiful sloped golden sand allows you to sunbathe and the shallow water makes is a great place for families. The beach is located near multiple bars, restaurants and ice cream vans for when your stomach starts rumbling; however, if you’re too busy relaxing in the sun and completely forget about lunch, you’ll soon be reminded thanks to the donut man who wanders the beaches yelling “beignet”, be sure to try one as they are delicious. From here you can explore the village on foot or rent bikes, rollerblades, scooters and quad bikes as well as find watersports tuition and hire.
  • Réals is the name given to a location on the River Orb where you'll find a river beach, which makes a nice change from the busy beaches along the Mediterranean coast. Park your car at the iron bridge spanning the river between Murviel-les-Béziers and Cessenon-sur-Orb and descend the path. There are various spots to choose but older kids will love to swim across the narrow river and jump off the cliffs opposite. Always be aware of water depth and possible submerged rocks before taking the plunge. Watch where the locals go first. Because of it's proximity to the river this area is popular with canoe hire and tour companies.
  • Serignan is one of the best and least crowded beaches in this area. Surrounded by wildlife, you can relax on the golden sand in amongst the dunes and swim in the gorgeous blue sea. For the naturists among us, there is a nudist part of the beach located away from the main beach. There are numerous campsites bordering the beach who will let you use their pools, waterslide and the bar and restaurant facilities for a small fee (or in exchange for a food and/or drink purchase.)
  • Valras Plage is a bustling and typical southern French seaside resort. With its port, long sandy beach, promenade and diverse activities, it makes an excellent base for a summer holiday. Kids love Valras Plage as the promenade seems to have been built specially for them; rollerblading along its flat surface with a stop-off at the little adventure park towards the marina is great fun. Then a stroll around the marina itself to see the fishing and numerous pleasure boats and, in the summer, there is usually a fairground (fête foraine) with tall toboggans and bumper cars. 
  • One of our favourite beaches, Vias Plage should be at the top of your list. Vias Plage is a great little seaside resort that's very family friendly with countless things to do. The beach itself is in the form of a long sandy cove shelving very gently down to the Mediterranean. Safe for the kids, you can relax near the azure waters and watch the planes flying around promoting various activities, all while buying a donut from the local man walking around shouting “Beignet!” at the top of his lungs. There is a semi-private beach down the road next to the Yelloh campsite where you will find a calmer atmosphere and can partake in some of the watersports they have on offer.

 

Cities & Villages

Aside from the main city of this area - Narbonne - with it's connections to Roman and Cathar history - there are many smaller towns and villages rich well worth a visit. Some of our favourite places are:

  • Beziers is a beautiful French town with plenty to fill a day trip. Visit the new shopping centre, stroll around the old town and the St Nazaire Cathedral, or take a stroll along the shaded banks of the Canal du Midi. A great way to see the town is via the tourist train, that will take you around all the best sights. For lunch or an evening out there are many restaurants and bars.
  • Capestang is a small village with a port on the Canal du Midi. It is known for having the smallest bridge, meaning if a boat can pass through the bridge it will be able to travel the length of the canal, which stretches from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. In the village itself you'll find a few restaurants and bars and a regular market selling mostly locally grown produce.
  • Cazouls-les-Béziers offers a typical Languedocien market twice a week in the village square, selling fresh local homegrown produce, a delicatessen counter, clothes, herbs and spices, bread, etc. It is small but perfect for walking into the village, buying your fresh produce for the evening meal and then stopping off at the Café for a coffee and to watch the Cazouline life go by! There are 3 local bakeries, a small grocery in the village square and then there are 2 excellent supermarkets at the end of the village.
  • Cruzy is the site of a Neolithic settlement but no written record has been found prior to 902AD. The village boasts its own museum (Rue de la Poste) where exhibits from the surrounding area can be seen. These include dinosaur eggs, roman pottery and, from more recent times, banners sewn for the Vignerons demonstrations in 1907. In common with so many other villages in the region, Cruzy was built on wine. The Château de Sériège is testimony to the prosperity that wine-production brought. The Chateau from a distance looks like a majestic house, but in reality is nothing more than a folly; it was never completely finished and never lived in.
  • Gruissan has one of the largest yacht marinas along the Languedoc coastline and boasts that it is one of the few places where you can moor your boat only a few steps away from a restaurant! The village is in the typical ‘circulade’ style, spiralling around the central church like a snail. It is almost completely surrounded by water with a lagoon to the north and the Mediterranean to the south. This watery paradise is a haven for birdlife with cranes, storks, terns, flamingos and many other varieties clearly visible against the stunning blue sky. There are loads of walks and cycle tracks around the town, some long, some quite short but none of them particularly taxing. You will find endless water activities along the beach, aimed at the novice and the more experienced. Gruissan makes a great holiday venue for kids and families.
  • Lagrasse is officially designated one of 'Les Plus Beaux Villages de France'. The village grew up around the abbey and the most striking views to be found are both of and from the Vieux Pont which dramatically spans the River Orbieu. It is now a recognised tourist venue, offering a variety of shops. Our favourites include: La Cabane à Savon selling handmade soaps, Au Joly Mobile Home where they make mobiles out of a huge variety of materials. Another interesting shop is ChainMailArt, where everything is made of, well, chainmail.
  • Magalas (pronounced Mag-ah-lass; the ‘s’ is usually sounded in the Biterrois area) is a dynamic village, very popular with expatriates many of whom have chosen to buy a primary or secondary residences here. Like so many of its neighbouring villages, Magalas is built on wine and wine-making. There is an excellent restaurant here making it well worth a visit, despite it's small size. Also in common with many other medieval villages of the Languedoc, Magalas is built as a ‘circulade’. Viewed from the air, it resembles a snail’s shell—this is the form of defence where the outer walls of each house are built very thickly to repel invaders and each circle interlocks as it has grown and been added to over the centuries of the village’s existence.
  • Maraussan is situated between the Languedoc National Park and Mediterranean coast. It has just about everything you could wish for from a southern French village — shops, a market, an excellent boulangerie and two highly-rated restaurants. In addition, it’s very close to Béziers with all the interesting features this major town has to offer. A short drive away, over the River Orb, is the Chateau Perdiguier, which can be viewed by arrangement.
  • Minerve is a picturesque village perched along the side of a steep gorge and with its origins going back into prehistory. With a dark history, it was from here that the Perfects, or believers in the Cathar religion, were sent to their deaths. At the bottom of the you will see the replica of the Malvoisine, a catapult situated on the opposite side of the gorge which pounded the walls to pieces and eventually gave the Crusaders entry to do their worst. For the modern day tourist there are a lot of cafés and restaurants in Minerve and a number of interesting shops selling everything from books to miniature figurines; there are also a couple of nice art galleries and a museum of paleontology and archaeology.
  • Nissan-lez-Ensérune (Niça d'Enseruna in Occitan) is a lovely village situated just south of Béziers close to the beautiful Central Languedoc beaches. With wine at the centre of it's economy it is has a long history, as can be seen from the medieval houses and narrow streets. Combine a trip to Nissan with a visit to the three windmills that sit above that town (two of which - Tiquet and Balayé - have been restored and occassionally mill flour) and the nearby village of Oppidum d'Ensérune that overlooks the Etang de Montady and dates from 6 BC!
  • Pezenas is a picturesque town that also goes by the 

 

Events & Festivals

  • Béziers Féria takes place in August and has more in common with a Spanish festival than a typically French fete. The central focus is the bullfights in the Arènes but there is qlso qn excellent equestrian display and a procession and then music and dancing well into the night!
  • Les Estivales are mini-festivals where local wine producers showcase their products whilst giving you the opportunity to enjoy live music and good food. The great thing is that you are actively encouraged to taste different wines, so for a very basic entry fee, you can choose two or three producers and sample their wine for free. In Narbonne the festival takes place every Friday evening on the Promenade des Barques in July and August from 6.30pm – 11.30pm qnd costs 4€ for two dégustations + your own souvenir glass.
  • Promaude in Lézignan-Corbières takes place every Whitsun weekend and is the shop window for the Aude's finest foods. You'll find local producers selling their home-made honey, sweets, ice creams, seafood, cheeses, olives, charcuterie, fruits, vegetables and, of course, wines. It's also a great venue for kids and families as you'll find street theatre, a petting zoo and live concerts.

  

Sights & Attractions

  • Vendres is a popular destination all year long, but especially during summer. The North of the town is full of vineyards and wine caves, it is one of the best places to get local wine. The South is where you will find the Etang de Vendres - a wonderful pond that is well worth visiting. The main centre of the town borders the Mediterranean. There are a lot of campsites and a wonderful beach that is a hot spot for tourists. The beach itself has a couple of beach bars/restaurants that are popular with tourists and locals alike. The old village is full of culture thanks to its churches and there is also a fountain and some interesting Roman Ruins.
  • The Château Perdiguier, located just outside of Maraussan, is "real" castle with turrets dating from the 14th century. Nowadays, in addition to producing excellent wines and arable farming, the Château hosts a range of exhibitions and has two salles de reception available for weddings. Guided visits can be arranged. To get there, take the picturesque route via the Pont de Tabarka, an old iron railway bridge over the River Orb, now used exclusively by road traffic. 
  • At the Béziers section of the Canal du Midi the Nine Locks are an engineering highlight. There are various points along the canal where you can rent a comfortable cruiser for the family or friends for a week or make a half-day cruise. The Canal is very tranquil and the towpath is an excellent place to walk. Here you can take a stroll even in the heat of summer as the thousands of plane trees planted along its banks offer welcome shade.
  • The Toro Piscine, Vias is a unique experience where spectators over the age of 18 are allowed to go into the ring and play a series of games with the a young. The activities include football or trying to lead the bull into the water (there is a small paddling pool in the centre of the ring, hence the "piscine" part). It's all extremely entertaining and the bull isn't harmed. Purists and animal lovers might still not appreciate this sport but no one gets hurt - well, certainly not the bull anyway - and it really is very amusing.
  • The Oppidum d'Ensérune is an ancient hill-town which rises up from the surrounding vineyards and overlooks the Etang de Montady on one side, and the Canal and Tunnel de Malpas on the other. The town was continuously settled from the 6th century BC to the 1st century AD and an interesting museum has now been built on the site. A trip to the Oppidum, combined with a visit to the tunnel of Malpas and the tourist centre perched above it, make for an excellent afternoon’s research. There is plenty of space for young and energetic holidaymakers to run around in — just don’t let them fall in the Canal du Midi. Stories abound that tell of catfish swimming in the depths, big enough to pull the average dog underwater!

 

Outdoors & Activities for Families

  • Accrobranche, Béziers is one of the many outdoor adventure sites in France where you follow an assault course that has been created high up in the trees. There are different levels so you can choose the adventure course appropriate for your ability - in the low trees or the high trees (easy, medium and difficult). At the Béziers site there is a lot of wildlife and even a small farm full of pigs, boars, rabbits and much more! You can also find a cafe and a picnic area and, there are other assault courses around the park (on the ground) as well as beautiful streams and ponds to be explored, which makes it an absolutely lovely place to take a stroll. 
  • Aqualand, Cap d'Agde is one of the many waterparks in this region. It's a great place to cool off during hot summer months and a complete day out for all the family. There are slides, rapids, bubble baths, and there is even a beautiful island covered in grass and surrounded by palm trees where you can relax, as well as self-service restaurants, snack bars, and picnic areas. There are Aqualand sites in this region at St Cyprien and Port Leucate.
  • The Cactus Park Bessan is an interesting destination for keen horticulturalists and botanists but is also makes an excellent day out for families who can enjoy the wide range of animals, ranging from cute little baby goats and donkeys up to yaks and llamas, at the petting zoo. Refreshments are available onsite and there is also a picnic area.
  • Europark at Vias is the biggest permanent fairground in France and is full of rides suitable for people of all ages. It is very family-orientated until about 10pm, at which time, the ambience changes slightly and teens and young adults take over from the families. The rides are diverse and there are lots of them, including 'Bad Trip', 'Fly Zone', 'Adrenalyn' and 'Rio Bravo', so no matter what age you are, you'll find something you like! Other activities include a mini adventure park for young children, a log flume, coin machines, a runaway train, trampolines, a very big rollercoaster and tonnes more!
  • The funfair at Valras plage is a well-established activity that comes to the resort every summer. It is right on the beach and has a great atmosphere. It's open all day and well into the evening so you can have fun at any time of the day! Most of the rides are aimed at younger children but you will find something for everyone here, whether it's a big slide, coin machines or even just silly little games you used to play as a child! 
  • The Petting Zoo at Cessenon-sur-Orb is well-worth a visit for families with younger children where they can pet and fall in love with all sorts of farmyard animals: sheep, pigs, cows, horses, chickens, ducks and geese. There is limited opening during the off-season, but from April to October, the farm is open every day from 11.00am until 7.00pm.
  • Grau d'Agde offers boat-fishing trips along the coast just off Agde. Rods, bait and necessary tackle are provided and there's a small bar for refreshments on board. Bring your own snacks. Boats normally leave quite early (around 7.30am) and will get you back on shore in time for lunch - either at a restaurant or at your holiday villa to cook the mackerel, bass or eel that you have just hunted and fished yourself.
  • Paintball Vendres is huge fun for families with older children and groups of friends. If you've never taken up the challenge that is paintball, this is your chance! Hide out, take cover, run like crazy to the next shelter, and then zap your opponents with coloured paint from your special gun. All good harmless fun, guaranteed to get the andrenaline rushing in a controlled and friendly atmosphere.
  • MonCiné Cinema Béziers has over 10 screens and offers a non-French film once per week (look for "VO" which means Original Version), which is more often than not an English-language film. The cinema is located in the popular Polygone shopping mall so you can combine a trip to the cinema with a spot of shopping and a meal in one of the many restaurants. Parking is beneath the Polygone complex; if you hold a Carte de Fidelité it's free, or if you do some shopping whilst there, then spend more than 20€, get your parking ticket stamped, and it's also free.

 

Restaurants and Bars

  • O-Bontemps: Rue de l’Eglise, Magalas. Olivier Bontemps serves top notch food. We recommend this venue for special occasions.
  • Basalte, Agde is small establishment more akin to a British wine bar than a restaurant. They certainly know their wines here and have a wide selection of Languedoc wines. They also stock some unusual Japanese whiskies and several brands of dark rum, including one from Mauritius. In the small restuarant there is a choice of a couple of plats du jour and a range of excellent Surf'n'Turf-style entrées. If you're having dessert, you have to try the Rum Baba, which is sublime; the lightest possible brioche and you get to choose which of the interesting rums you would like poured over the top - absolute heaven!
  • Béziers Plage is located in the grounds of the stunning Château Vaisseries, Béziers and is definitely the place to be and seen! During the weekdays it's a quiet venue where you can enjoy a nice dinner or evening wine in a stunning surrounding, if there's a nice crowd the evening will turn into a true soirée when the DJ turns up the sound and the dance floor gets crowded. In the weekends however, this is THE place where it all happens! The early evening attracts people for dinner or tapas but later in the night you'll find a full parking lot, bouncers and a massive party crowd on and around the dance floor. 
  • Café de la Gare, Réals is an unostentatious tapas bar that is only open in the summer. Conveniently located by the iron bridge over the Orb between Murviel-les-Béziers and Cessenon-sur-Orb, this is a nice place to have a lunch or drink after a day down by the river beaches where the kids will have spent their time jumping off high rocks into the placid waters of the Orb. This little café occasionally has live jazz bands and other entertainment.
  • La Guinguette, Béziers is set right on the bank of the Orb in Beziers, and is a delightfully peaceful spot. The cathedral is almost directly above you as you sit sipping your chilled rosé and looking out for ripples in the water that tell you that big brown trout are swimming close by. The entrance is via La Plantade, a garden and playground at the bottom of the hill just along from the Vieux Pont.
  • Le Chai Bon, Cazouls-les-Béziers is tucked away on a side street so you need to know where you are going. It offers a nice meeting of Mediterranean food with stuff from up North – ‘Cht’i ‘country, Picardy and Nord-Pas de Calais. So, lots of southern wines, northern beers, peaches and melons or apples, pears and cherries. Take your pick as to whether you are going to try a ‘northern’ or a ‘southern’ style meal.
  • Les Grands Buffets, Narbonne is surprising venue; not so much for its food – which is excellent – but because of its location: in the same 1980’s complex as Narbonne's ice rink and the swimming pool. Avoid the crowds waiting to buy tickets for their chosen pastime and turn right to enter what appears to be a turn-of-the-century Parisian brasserie, all copper, brass and polished wood. For a set price, you can eat all you want including fish, meat, vegetarian, French, exotic, Asian etc. The sea food is particularly impressive and the desserts are manifold and to die for. It's best to book beforehand as Les Grands Buffets is a secret no longer.
  • Lou Calamaire, Béziers is a laid-back bar and restaurant and a great place for a night out. On weekdays the place is dotted with locals and tourists alike sipping a drink or having a bite in this oasis of green. During the weekend this is one of Béziers main hotspots. Families come here for a casual dinner in the early evening while sundown heralds a younger crowd looking for a place to dance and meet friends. The Mediterranean cuisine restaurant provides a sufficient choice of starters, mains and desserts for young and old making it a nice place for a family lunch or dinner. The bar area offers an assortment of tapas, pizzas and bruschettas along with the expected range of wines, cocktails and alcohols.

 

Markets and Shopping Centres

  • Olonzac is a small Roman village with a market every Tuesday morning (remember that markets close by lunchtime) as well as a few other small shops.
  • As well as being a beautiful town, Pezenas has one of the best Saturday morning markets in the region.
  • Béziers Flower Market takes place every Friday. Soak up the the colours and scents hibiscus, oleander, roses, carnations, lilies, gladioli and dozens of other beautiful flowers that grow so well in this region. You will be sorely tempted to buy some flowers to lively up your holiday villa, they are so lovely! If you need to stock up on cheese or charcuterie, the fresh produce market is only a short walk away and has a vast selection of products to choose from.
  • St Chinian market is on Thursday mornings but the biggest one is Sunday morning. As well as the usual plethora of local produce this market is also known to sell English food (even roast potatoes) and books as well as Vietnamese and Chinese takeaway food. You'll also find t least a dozen different blends of olives, charcuterie (which in this region also includes donkey and wild boar sausages) and amazing cuts of meat.
  • Valras market is on a Monday – an unusual day, since most shops close on a Monday morning. The town’s proximity to the sea ensures a great range of super fresh fish and seafood, but there is also plenty of fruit and veg to choose from.
  • The Polygone Shopping Mall houses the biggest Zara in France and the Mango store has just reopened at three times its original size. There are over 100 shops, 10 restaurants, a bowling alley and a cinema which often shows films in English. Our favourite store is Souleiado, which blends high fashion with Camargue-inspired fabrics.

 

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